Iota leaves more than 20 people dead or missing, unprecedented damage reported in San Andrés and Providencia

Iota leaves more than 20 people dead or missing, unprecedented damage reported in San Andrés and Providencia

At least 13 people were killed and 11 others remain missing after extremely dangerous Category 4 Hurricane "Iota" made landfall in Nicaragua on November 17-- considered the strongest storm to hit the country and the most powerful tropical cyclone of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

  • It moved directly over Providencia and San Andres, Colombia on November 16 as a Category 5 hurricane, causing "unprecedented" damage and marking the first time a Category 5 hurricane directly struck the country. 
  • Hundreds of thousands have been affected by floods and landslides, further worsening the situation in the region still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane "Eta."
  • The full extent of the damage left by Iota is still unclear.

Iota strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 260 km/h (160 mph) prior to its landfall, making it the strongest tropical cyclone of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

It weakened into a Category 4 hurricane, just 2 km/h below Category 5, prior to landfall, making it the strongest November hurricane to hit the Central American country on record.

The storm made landfall near the town of Haulover, Nicaragua, on November 17 -- just 25 km (15 miles) south of where Eta made landfall on November 3.

According to the Nicaraguan government, Iota is now considered the most powerful storm to hit the country in history.

As of early November 18, Iota is blamed for the deaths of at least 6 people in the country, two of whom were minors.

More than 62 000 people have been evacuated in 683 government shelters following the storm. In the city of Bilwi, also known as Puerto Cabezas, there is almost no communication due to fallen power lines.

Heavy rains associated with a tropical wave and Iota caused extensive damage in Colombia, and left at least 7 people dead and 11 others missing. Massive damage took place in the Mohán sector of Dabeiba, where landslides killed three people, injured 20, and left 8 others missing.

On November 15 and 16, Iota passed close to the outlying Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina as a Category 5 hurricane. The hurricane's eye directly hit Providencia, causing "unprecedented" damage, according to President Iván Duque Márquez.

This marked the first time a Category 5 directly struck the country. Communication was temporarily lost with the island on November 16.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, November 17, Duque said they have started rebuilding Providencia Island, where 98 percent of the infrastructure had been destroyed.

"We began to remove rubble from the island, accelerate the delivery of humanitarian aid and tents to enable family spaces."

In Honduras, Iota caused a river to overflow in Tocoa, while mudslides hit various parts of the country. One girl was reportedly killed by a fallen tree, but authorities are yet to confirm the fatality.

Honduras, among other nations in Central America, is still suffering from the devastation of Eta, which resulted in the loss of the country's existing banana plantations-- the largest damage in history for bananas, according to local producers.

In a statement, Oxfam International called on the international community for help. "Millions of people have already lost everything they had," said Asier Hernando, Oxfam's regional director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The full extent of the damage left by Iota in the affected countries remains unclear, but preliminary reports said flooding and landslides caused damage to homes and businesses, including torn roofs, toppled trees, and downed poles.

As of 09:00 UTC (03:00 LT), the storm has weakened into a tropical depression over El Salvador, with maximum sustained winds of 56 km/h (35 mph), moving west-southwest at 21 km/h (13 mph).

The threat of catastrophic flash flooding and mudslides is expected to continue across parts of Central America, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Featured image credit: Honduran Red Cross

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